Putt-putt passes muster with P&Z
December 5, 2006
The proposal for a miniature golf course played through the Aspen Planning and Zoning Commission Tuesday, but not to fear: There will be no clown heads. A request to convert retail space to free-market housing, however, landed in the rough.Planner Glenn Horn’s lengthy presentation to the commission focused almost entirely on issues related to the conversion of the retail space and that it is consistent with original approvals for development at Highlands, as well as the Aspen Area Community Plan. Horn was representing the applicant for the development, Hines Highlands Limited Partnership.Commissioner Steve Skadron, however, wanted to know more about the course itself.”Do you want to say a few words about the golf course?” he asked Horn after the presentation.The mini golf course’s designer, Kevin Dunnett, said the 18-hole course will be “a more sophisticated golf course” that won’t include the usual “kitsch” associated with mini golf.Without knowing more details about the course itself, Skadron said he couldn’t approve the proposal, although he supported the idea of a miniature golf course itself in that location.”Before I approve this, I would just like to know exactly what it is I’m approving,” he said.Commissioners Jasmine Tygre, Dylan Johns and Brian Speck agreed they would like to know more, but they ultimately approved the idea. Before casting his “yes” vote, however, Speck did comment that he wanted to “make sure it doesn’t get too Disney.”Although Dunnett noted the popularity of putt-putt golf courses at the base of other ski mountains, such as Copper Mountain and Beaver Creek, the course’s designer, too, cringed at the idea that the Aspen Highlands course would share some of their traditional mini-obstacles.Tygre’s comments in support of the project drew laughter from the group attending the meeting.”Despite my personal distaste for golf of any type,” she said, “I do think it would be very helpful to bring people into that area in the summertime, even if they’re doing something stupid.”Retail vs. housingThe more confounding issue for the commission was the request to convert some 3,200 square feet of unused retail space to a four-bedroom free-market residence. The space in question sits off the regular pedestrian route from the parking garage and bus stop to the chairlifts at the base of the mountain, making it difficult to rent. It hasn’t seen a single tenant since its construction.”I think this is kind of a doomed space,” Tygre said.Tygre and Kruger supported allowing the developers to convert the space to a free-market unit, while the rest of the commission denied the request.Kruger, who works in commercial real estate, said she tried to rent the space at Highlands for two years, to no avail, and she doesn’t anticipate that changing after it has been empty for so long.”There is no economic vitality in a space that’s been vacant for six years,” she said, adding that it would be more viable “as anything else.”Skadron said he was “sensitive to the difficulties of making retail at Aspen Highlands,” but he wasn’t comfortable converting the space to a use that would forever preclude it from becoming a commercially viable space, such as offices.Bob Daniel, vice president with Hines Highlands, had hoped for more from the commission.”We felt like it was a complete application, and we’re disappointed to see they didn’t approve the” conversion, he said. He couldn’t comment on whether the residential unit was essential to making the golf venture work and that he will have to take it to the owners to determine their next step. The golf course proposal itself has been approved to play through to City Council.Abigail Eagye’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.orgThe Aspen Times, Aspen, Colo.